Eleanor Coppola, age 80, has been around the movies her whole adult life. She’s been married since 1963 to legendary director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now). Her daughter Sofia (Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring) is also a celebrated filmmaker, and her son Roman is a respected writer and producer. To date, Eleanor has worked on several “making of” features for her family’s films.
But now she’s made a fiction feature, Paris Can Wait, about the wife of a film producer who’s trying to find herself. And I hope she can forgive viewers who find it exceptionally hard to distinguish the film’s story from what could be her personal experience. It is, after all, about a woman who’s been part of other people’s stories for a long time, and now feels the need to start one of her own.
Coppola has hinted before that the film has some basis in reality: “I had an experience that was strong and resonated with me that I was telling a friend, and she said, ‘Oh, that’s the movie I want to see,’” Coppola told Deadline last September.
But even if it’s not a roman à clef, Paris Can Wait is obviously still rooted in Coppola’s experience. Unfortunately, it’s not a great film. But it’s an enjoyable one, if you like fine wine, beautiful countrysides, and a little frisson of flirtation.
Paris Can Wait takes its characters on a road trip from Cannes to Paris
Diane Lane plays Anne, a middle-aged woman who, after 18 years of raising her daughter and looking after her movie-producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) while running a dress shop in New York City, is now at rather loose ends. She is cheerful, and her marriage is affectionate. But Michael, while not aloof, is still distant and disconnected from her, calling on her more to help him locate his socks than to be his partner or confidante.
As the film begins, Michael and Anne are getting ready to leave the Cannes Film Festival and head to Paris. Then Michael gets a call about a film he’s producing that’s shooting in Morocco — it’s running off the rails, and he has to change plans. Anne’s inner ears have been bothering her, so she elects not to fly to Morocco with Michael, choosing instead to set out for Paris by car with Michael’s business partner, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), a charming Frenchman with perhaps a too finely tuned sense of joie de vivre.
All of these characters are plausible stand-ins for and conflations of people who float around in the film industry. Whether or not they’re directly modeled on real movie producers (and their wives), they’re definitely realistic.
Paris Can Wait is more interested in embodying desire than in telling a story
But Paris Can Wait isn’t primarily some kind of dishy tell-all. It’s really a lot more like porn. Not the sex kind. But definitely the food, wine, beautiful French countryside kind, where the main pleasure of the film is looking at things that very privileged people are enjoying and imagining yourself also indulging in them.
Jacques doesn’t put much stock in imagination, regularly choosing instead to indulge in whatever he likes without disguising his desire. His behavior vacillates between adorable and exasperating, and Anne sees it that way, too. He wants to experience it all, everything the world has to offer. She is American, more independent, more straitlaced, more willing to forgo her urges. She’s used to experiencing luxury, but with a bit of cool detachment — she constantly snaps photos of the pretty things in her life, but they’re all close-up macros, as if she’s reticent to take in more than a little at once.
Paris Can Wait throws both of those extremes into a car for a couple days and lets us watch what happens amid the picnics, mishaps, and detours. Jacques and Anne don’t meet in the middle, exactly. But there’s sexual tension (can you call it tension if one of them is a shameless flirt?) and conversations that provoke Anne into thinking about her next steps in life. The most accurate way to describe it is to say that she reconnects with her sensuality, but that’s overstating the case a bit. Really, Paris Can Wait feels like the beginning of a story that someone would write a best-selling memoir about afterward.
Does it work as a movie? Not exactly. The writing sags a bit. Conversations that could have sparked with the wit and archness of a 1940s romantic comedy are edited in such a way as to make them feel slow and mannered, and it’s distracting. And though Lane sparkles in any role, this one feels kind of labored; in her hands, Anne feels hampered by the screenplay from being as funny and smart as she should be. Lane’s talents seem wasted here. One wonders if Coppola’s are too.
But Paris Can Wait is a serviceably pleasant and indulgent lifestyle binge, the cinematic equivalent of a gratifyingly bland Instagram feed from someone on a fun road trip through Provence. It’s best watched with a glass of rosé in hand, maybe a bit of Brie. When it’s over, not much has changed. No harm done.
Paris Can Wait opens in theaters on May 12.